Cornelius and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit

O. C. Birdwell
Cullman, Alabama

Apparently the widely read and generally accepted book, The Mission and Medium of the Holy Spirit, by Foy E. Wallace, Jr., has caused the acceptance on the part of many of the idea that Cornelius was not baptized with the Holy Spirit. While it is true that what happened at the house of Cornelius is not called a baptism of the Holy Spirit, Peter's statements classify it with the happenings of Pentecost. To this writer, there seems to be no good reason to deny the baptism of the Holy Spirit of Cornelius.

There are two instances recorded where the Holy Spirit came as a direct outpouring from the Father apart from the intervention of man in any way. They are on Pentecost and at the house of Cornelius. At Pentecost it is said, "they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:4). God had said through Joel, "I will pour forth of my Spirit " (2:17), and Peter goes on to affirm that Jesus, at the right hand of God, "hath poured forth this, which ye see and hear" (2:3.3). This was the fulfillment of Jesus' promise, "Ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:5). The word "baptize," according to W. E. Vine, is used here metaphorically for what happened in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.

It is interesting to note the similarity of the statements about what happened at Pentecost and at the house of Cornelius. God said through flesh" (2:17). Peter said, "Being therefore by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit he hath poured forth this, which ye see and hear" (2:33). Compare this language to that of Luke and Peter as they describe what happened at the conversion of Cornelius. "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all of them that heard the word. And they of the circumcision that believed were amazed, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 10:44,45). Peter says of the event, "And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, even as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, John indeed baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit. If then God gave unto them the like gift as he did also unto us, when we believed on the Lord Jesus, who was 1, that I could withstand God?" (11:15-17). Peter, further describing the conversion of the Gentiles, said, "And God, who knoweth the heart, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Spirit, even as he did unto us; . . ." (Acts 15:8).

If language means anything, Peter understood that the coming of the Spirit on Cornelius was like the outpouring on Pentecost. He said on them also was the gift poured out; that the Holy Spirit fell on them as on us; and God gave them the Holy Spirit as he did unto us. It would take quite a bit of human reasoning to cause one to misunderstand these statements.

It may be that confusing the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the power manifested by those receiving such baptism has caused many to deny the baptism of Cornelius. It is apparently assumed that if Cornelius received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, as did the apostles, he would have had the same power, as did they. This is merely an assumption. The only power, however, that we can determine the apostles had those others did not have been the ability to impart, by the laying on of hands, spiritual gifts to others. The apostles were Christ's ambassadors and seemingly had this power for that reason, and not necessarily because they had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Much of this confusion may have come from the practice of preaching on "Measures of the Spirit." According to this sermon, there is the Spirit without measure, the baptismal measure, the measure by the laying on of the apostles hands, and the ordinary measure. just where in this scheme does the "measure" received by Cornelius fit in? The truth seems to be that the apostles and Cornelius (both Jew and Gentile) received the Holy Spirit by a direct our pouring or baptism from God apart from any act or involvement of man. It came on Pentecost with sound and sight. People were thus gathered together and heard the apostles speak in tongues. It came on the house of Cornelius as a demonstration to the Jews of the acceptability of the Gentiles. They also were heard speaking in tongues. This outpouring was not to save anyone.

The Spirit also was given to disciples by the laying on of the apostles' hands (Acts 8: 14-17). Through this the recipients had the same power to heal, reveal the truth, and speak in other languages, as did the apostles. However, they were not apostles and did not have the power to impart the gift to others. Apart from this there was the "gift of the Holy Spirit" which was promised to all those who repent and are baptized (Acts 2:38). This gift is the same as the "seasons of refreshing" spoken of in Acts 3:19.

What Cornelius received was not the gift promised to those who repent and are baptized. He had not been baptized. Neither did he receive the Holy Spirit by the laying of the apostles' hands. The Spirit was "poured out" directly from the Father. This is what happened on Pentecost and is described, according to Vine, metaphorically, by the word "baptize."

In conclusion, please give consideration to the following comment by the noted gospel preacher and scholar, J. W. McGarvey, as lie wrote about the coming of the Holy Spirit on Cornelius.

"The considerations which caused the amazement were, first, that the Holy Spirit was I poured out' upon them directly from God, as it had never been before on any but the apostles; and second, that this unusual gift was bestowed on Gentiles. . . . The fact that this gift of the Spirit was manifested by the miracle of speaking in tongues distinguishes it from that gift of the Spirit promised to all who repent and are baptized (2:38); and the fact that it came directly from heaven, without the imposition of apostolic hands, distinguishes it from such gifts as that bestowed on the Samaritans, and that afterward bestowed on prominent members of many churches. We have no event with which to classify it except the gift bestowed on the apostles on Pentecost; and thus it is actually classified by Peter farther on (11:15,16). He says: 'As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell Mi them even as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized in water, but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit.' In these words he identifies it as a baptism in the Holy Spirit; and these two are the only events that are thus designated in the New Testament. The one was the divine expression of the admission of the first Jews into the new Messianic kingdom, and the other, that of the first Gentiles." (Commentary on Acts. p. 213, 214). This should be enough on the subject.

September 6, 1973